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Apple's iPod Shuffle took more than half of the US Flash-based music player market last month, retail market watcher NPD has said, by way of a report from Merrill Lynch.

NPD's stats put the Shuffle's share of the retail arena on 58 per cent, up from 43 per cent in February. Apple already commands the hard drive-based player market with a 90 per cent share. More than 70 per cent of all legal song downloads in the US are sold by Apple's iTunes Music Store, the Merrill Lynch client report notes, according to MacNN.

Merrill also said the iPod family has a 40 per cent share of the Japanese market, according to numbers supplied by Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer.

The numbers Merrill quotes are broadly suggested by other MP3 player vendors' experiences during Q1. Creative, maker of the Zen Micro, for example, saw flat salesduring the quarter, compared to the last three months of 2004. It shipped 2m music players, both Flash- and HDD-based units. Apple, by contrast, shipped 5.3m in the same period, up 17.8 per cent on the Q4 2004's 4.5m.

Apple sold its 350,000,000th song download last month. We project it to pass the 500m mark between now and the end of June. ®

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